432 Park Avenue — A Splinter in the Sky

Gabriel Gonzalez


The New York skyline has undergone many changes in the 400 years since being settled by Dutch colonists. The dynamic skyline has represented the evolution of this world city, the changing architecture serving as the city’s vertical strata that document the different historical periods the city has lived through. However, a recent trend of residential skyscrapers has begun to transform the skyline in a completely different way, chief among them being the one at 432 Park Avenue.

Instead of the graceful Art Deco forms of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, or the gleaming modernism of One World Trade Center, we are presented with a blocky cage, a contemporary take on Mies van der Rohe and 1950s functionalist/international style architecture. The structure itself is composed of glass and steel, and is the tallest residential skyscraper in New York City, with the tallest roof height of any building in the City. 432 Park Avenue has a 19:1 height-to-width ratio, making it one of the most slender skyscrapers in Manhattan. The unconventional width of the building makes it appear as an intruder, invading photos of the beloved New York skyline.

Towering over established landmarks, it impudently demands attention, claiming its height as a verification of superiority. However, it doesn’t take much digging to reveal that the skyscraper’s design was inspired by nothing other than a trash can. Yep, that’s right. New York City has its very own trash can in its skyline. The can in question was designed by Josef Hoffman, and sports the same blocky, square design of the tower — without all the glass. Instead of using rectangular windows, or a tower cloaked in glass, the architect decided to go with square windows that look out of place on the slim tower, and make it appear as if it were composed of gray Lego bricks. The choice of square windows makes the building appear squat, giving passer-by a confusing image of an anorexic giant that seems uncomfortably compressed.

It seems that the Architect was afraid that narrower, vertical, rectangular windows would draw the eye upward and make the tower seem too tall to fit in with the surrounding landscape, but he made the tower so tall that any window configuration would have this effect. It might have been better to cloak the entire building in reflective glass. That way, it would mirror the sky above and the buildings around it, and would camouflage its abnormal dimensions with its surroundings. As this building is the first completed one in a slew of supertall residential towers under construction, it draws alarm to the future of the iconic New York skyline.